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We stand at a crossroads.

Down one path we are offered the opportunity to live up to the ideals we so often uphold as the image of our country, the dream that is the United States. Down the other is simply the same failure we have repeated over and over again in a history that does not live up to our own espoused beliefs.

There is a fine line between reasonable caution and irrational fear, and it’s one that I fear all too many of us have crossed since the Paris attacks. I understand the desire for security, the wariness in the face of a potential threat, and the uncertainty brought about by troubled times. But I also understand that we cannot allow those concerns to overwhelm our compassion.

Yes, its possible that in accepting Syrian refugees into the United States we will open ourselves to increased risk. Yes, we live in a country that all too often fails its own citizens, much less those seeking asylum from the horror and desolation of war. Hell, I’ll even go one step further and admit that unassimilated Muslim communities carry with them all sorts of potential long term concerns that we’d be foolish to ignore.

But.

That’s not who we are.

At least, that’s not who I was raised to believe we are.

Maybe it was just getting that speech at an impressionable age, young enough to take it to heart but perhaps not mature enough to understand everything that it meant, but I was raised to believe in a country that stood for more than just the safety and security of its own citizens, but also in the promise of that protection to those who came here in times of need, the wretched huddled masses of the world yearning to breathe free.

Few things are more wretched than refugees, and despite what some who have never faced such hardship will tell you, few braver.

“They should stay and fight”, say some, failing to say for whom, or for what, in a complex situation where there is no right side, no just cause, just a tangled morass of allegiances and motivations.

Anyone who leaves their home in time of war must assume, must realize on some level, that the chances are good that they will never be able to go home. That no matter who wins the civil war they’re attempting to escape, the victors will not look favorably on those who simply wanted to live without the threat of death. There will probably be no grand reconciliation, no great homecoming, and even if there is, no guarantee that anything left behind will remain.

So don’t feed me that line. Don’t feed yourself that line.

“But they might be terrorists”, say others. It’s true, they might. They might also be pedophiles, sexual predators, murderers, people who pass bad checks, or heavens forfend people who take too long to order at the drive-thru window. We can’t know for certain that we won’t allow a few bad apples in with the rest of the bunch, but we have screening procedures in place to mitigate that possibility already, and the calls for more aggressive screenings are in most cases simply a smokescreen, a seemingly-reasonable position hiding fear or bigotry.

No process would be enough to guarantee safety for people already living here. Of course, we don’t guarantee safety for people living here even disregarding the possibility of infiltration by radical Islamist terrorists. One could argue that if one of of them did, in fact, make it all the way into the country and then decided to go shoot up a school that they were simply assimilating into American culture.

So don’t feed me that line either. It’s as big a bunch of irrational bullshit as the other one, and you should know better.

That train of thought leads to only a few stations, none of them any good, most of them titled things like “Detainment Camp” and “Mandatory Deportment”, because if we can’t trust the Muslims coming into this country then clearly we can’t trust the ones who are already here.

We’re strangely tolerant when it comes to terrorism and violence from people who look like us, who share our language, and who maybe exemplify some extreme versions of the little doubts we all harbor in our hearts about people outside our tribes, those xenophobic impulses that we’re not proud of but can rarely eradicate entirely.

Those benighted savages beyond the pale, however, we are not so tolerant of. Fear of the unknown is a powerful thing, after all. Easier to just put them all in camps so we can keep an eye on them. Make sure they know where their loyalties lie.

Except that they’ll have no loyalties if you put them in camps. Not to this country anyway. Your irrational terror simply feeds into the radicals rhetoric, the notion that the war ISIS wages is but one small part of a greater conflict between an oppressive West and oppressed Islam. A war that will never end, a war that cannot be allowed to end, since without that war, there is no reason for anyone to listen to the radical fringe.

Caution is a good thing, in moderation. When it is taken too far, when it transforms into fear and mistrust, cloaks bigotry and intolerance?

It doesn’t protect you from threats.

It creates them.

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